Thursday 20 December 2012

The Leicester Llama's Christmas Quiz

Something to do if you’re bored over the holidays. This is shamelessly ripped off from Howard Broughton’s ‘bird bits’ round in the recent Notts Birdwatchers’ quiz, but with a theme – Passerine wing bars. To make it slightly easier, all these photos were taken by me in Shetland (all in October) between 2007 & 2011. Species range from very common to very rare, and all are different.

Answers via the contacts page on my website please – – put ‘Christmas Quiz’ in the subject line. The first two correct (or highest scoring if no-one gets them all right) answers chosen at random on 31st December will each win an original line drawing from The Birds of Leicestershire & Rutland (Sabine’s Gull and Rough-legged Buzzard). Strictly one entry per person, and please DON’T give away any of the answers in the comments or anywhere else!

Answers and winners will be revealed in the New Year. Good luck and Happy Christmas!

Thursday 13 December 2012

Foot-it rehearsal

Apparently this is my 200th post on this blog - pretty lame for four and a half years, but there you go. At least I'm still posting something occasionally.

Anyway, I thought as I'd made up a list of birds I might see within 2.5 miles of my house for the January Foot-it Challenge, I ought to go and have a walk round the area to remind myself what really is there. So this afternoon I did the 'short route' (about 3.5 miles round trip) in sunny but freezing conditions. This doesn't take me as far as the airfield - even to get to the nearest edge adds another couple of miles to the total and takes about an hour longer.

Ironically, having said I wouldn't include it in my target total, the first birds I heard/saw as I stepped out of the front door were 5 Waxwings in a tree opposite my house! They didn't hang around, and immediately flew off north before I could get any photos. My second record here in about two weeks, but I still don't expect to see them in January.

A couple of hours later I was back home just as it was getting dark, having remembered how bird-free most of my patch is, and why I don't walk round those fields very often. Although I did see two of my 'probables' with no trouble at all - a pair of Ravens and a Marsh Tit, and another 'unexpected bonus' in the form of 3 Golden Plovers in a field with some Lapwings, several species I thought would be straightforward proved to be worryingly absent. Specifically, I didn't see Red-legged Partridge, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Linnet or Rook, and the pond was completely frozen, so the usually resident Moorhens have buggered off.

Including birds I saw in and around the garden (which didn't include my left-over-from-the-invasion Jay for the first time in weeks, or the usually reliable Great Spotted Woodpecker), the total for the day was 40 species. Apart from the species mentioned above, single flyover Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, and a Treecreeper were the best of the rest.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

No, I haven't gone mad and gone twitching in Suffolk - I've seen at least five Hornemann's in Shetland over the years. But by coincidence, I've recently painted one. The image measures 5 x 5 inches, and is painted in acrylics on watercolour board. Price is £120 framed (plain light wood frame with cream mount), or £110 if you don't want the frame (I'll throw in the mount anyway!). Anyone interested please contact me via my website or email/text/phone if you have my contact details. Thanks for looking.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll - original bird painting for sale

Friday 7 December 2012

January Foot it Challenge

Mainly as a way of getting some much-needed exercise, I've accepted Mark Reeder's January 'Foot it' birding challenge. If you haven't heard about this, basically it involves birding from your house on foot and seeing how many species you can see in January. You can read about my area and see the map here, and updates on everyone's lists will appear on that blog in due course. Should be fun!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

The End of the World is Nigh

Apparently a significant number of people on this planet believe that the world will end on 21st December 2012. This is variously known as the Mayan Prophecy, Hopi Prophecy, Doomsday Prophecy, etc. If you are one of those people, please pay close attention to the following very important announcement. And if you're not worried about it, well you should be, because it's obviously true.

God has spoken to me and told me that anyone who gives away all of their money before 21st December 2012 will be saved and go straight to heaven when the Earth is destroyed. To make it as easy as possible for you, I've added a donation button below. He also said that you don't have to wait until the day before to give your money away - entry to heaven will be on a 'first come, first served' basis, so the sooner you do it, the quicker you will get in (a bit like checking in your baggage online).

So just click the button and give me all your money (it's probably OK to keep enough to pay the next month's bills, as long as it really is all gone by the 20th). You will then have the double satisfaction of knowing that when the last trump sounds in just over a month, you and your family will be transported instantly to Paradise, whilst I and all the other miserable sinners and heathens go straight to hell where we belong.

Thursday 15 November 2012

A-hole Alert!

No idea what this is all about - some dodgy looking bloke I met in a car park asked me if I could advertise his new service. Click for larger image:

Sunday 4 November 2012

A Hawfinch in the rain

I debated for at least an hour this morning whether to go out in the pissing rain and in all probability see nothing, but in the end I decided I needed the exercise, and headed for Cossington Meadows.

At about 11:50 I was walking along the river bank near Plover Meadow pool, checking through a mixed tit flock and doing my best to pretend I was birding somewhere more exciting (the sort of place where something like a Pallas’s Warbler might be in with the flock), when an unfamiliar high-pitched ‘zeerp’ call somehow penetrated my hood/woolly hat combo. I looked up and was delighted to see the unmistakable chunky shape of a Hawfinch bounding towards me across the river! For a moment I thought it was going to land in the hawthorns, but I was obviously too close, and it continued across the pool and away towards the main track and Rectory Marsh.

A welcome county found tick, and the first one I’ve seen in Leics for over 14 years, the last being at Clipsham Hall, where they were fairly regular in the late 90s. And also, it has to be said (sorry Dave and John!), a mega Soar Valley tick, possibly even the first record for the area? If it has ever occurred, it must have been way back in the 1940s or 50s, when they bred at Quorn, which isn’t too far away. Not that my Soar Valley list is anything to shout about though...

Thursday 1 November 2012

Recent Artwork

I’ve decided that I might as well use this blog more for promoting my artwork – if nothing else it will give me something to write about, as posts have been few and far between recently! I don’t intend to completely turn it over to art, but don’t be surprised if there are a few more posts like this in the future.

OK, hands up who knows what ACEO stands for? Anyone who’s liked my Facebook page should know, since I’ve been posting almost nothing else on there recently, but if you haven’t seen my page, or aren’t on Facebook, ACEOs are Art Cards, Editions and Originals.

There is only one rule for an ACEO, and that is that it must measure exactly 3.5 x 2.5 inches (landscape or portrait). Other than that, anything goes – paintings, drawings, prints, collage; if you can put it on a 3.5 x 2.5 inch card, it’s an ACEO. The cards can be framed, or displayed in albums, and make excellent gifts.

The format was introduced as an eBay category several years ago, and has proved to be very popular with art collectors. I’ve been painting ACEOs for a couple of months now, and selling them on eBay and in my Etsy shop. My eBay auctions start at either £14.99 or £19.99; selling prices are slowly rising as more collectors find my work and bid for it, but the top prices so far have been around £30, so this is a very affordable way of acquiring some original art!

Here are just a few of my recent ACEOs. Most of these are sold, but if you want to keep in touch with what’s currently for sale, please have a look at the ACEOs page on my website.



Friday 26 October 2012

Farewell to Ceefax

How many birders of a certain age felt a little pang of nostalgia when they saw the news this week that Ceefax was finally being switched off? I certainly did, although I was also amazed it was still going in these days of mobile Internet and instant everything-on-demand whenever and wherever you want it.

It seems hard to believe now, but when I were a lad, in addition to Nancy’s Cafe and the grapevine, we used to find out about rare birds via Ceefax. There was a wildlife page, which I think was something like page 260, and on it, as well as general wildlife news, there was usually some very specific rare bird news. I can’t remember who used to update it, but it was a proper birder, who either had good grapevine contacts or used to ring Nancy’s to get the latest news.

There was one big drawback though – it was only updated once a week! Again, my memory is rather hazy (we are talking nearly 30 years ago after all), but I think it was updated on Thursday mornings. I remember going in to Coalville library to use their Ceefax TV, and jotting down anything of interest, which would then be firmed up (or not) by ringing Nancy’s on the Friday, and twitched (transport permitting) at the weekend. The Greater Sandplover at Cley in August 1985 is one bird I particularly remember finding out about on Ceefax, and there were several others. Even after Birdline started it was still a useful (and free) way of finding out what was around, on a Thursday at least!

It’s not quite hearing about a rare bird by postcard, but it’s not far off in terms of seeming ridiculously antiquated now!

Friday 28 September 2012

Cold Turkey

Normally at this time of year I’m in a state of high excitement preparing to go to Shetland. There will usually be at least one blog post in the week before we go with references to ironing my pants and endless perusing of weather websites. But as I’m not going this year, the pants will have to remain unironed. The weather websites are still being closely monitored, but this year, rather than south-easterlies I’m desperately hoping for continuous westerly gales (a bit like last year in fact!).

And so far, after a worrying start, it’s looking good for the weekend. But no, in all sincerity (yeah, right), ‘good luck to anyone going’ as they say. I’m very envious, as you can probably tell. If the currently forecast westerly gales don’t materialise I might go out and look for my two most-wanted county ticks, Lapland Bunting and Richard’s Pipit. But most likely I’ll be sitting here looking at the weather charts and the Shetland webcams – give me a wave if you’re passing one of them...

Not sure whether this will look as good once Blogger have mangled it, but this is a black & white HDR shot of the view across the airport to Sumburgh Head from Rob's house at Virkie, complete with just about south-easterly airsock.

Friday 31 August 2012

The Book That Inspired a Generation

I was delighted to find a copy of the Shell Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland in a charity shop the other day. My original copy was thrown out years ago, so I was happy to pay a couple of quid for one in good condition, if only for the nostalgia.

I remember buying ‘the Shell Guide’, as it quickly came to be known, when it was first published in 1983, from WH Smith, or possibly one of the now long-gone independent bookshops in Leicester. I’d had other bird books before of course, but this was something different. Looking at it now, nearly 30 years later, the illustrations seem rather dated, and in many cases completely useless (some of the warblers and waders for example), but at the time the book was a revelation. Several different plumages were portrayed for each species (find me a modern book that shows 12 plumages for Long-tailed Duck!), with accurate captions (no vague ‘immatures’ here), up to date maps and population information, and detailed text.

But the best part for me, and I’m sure many others, was the fact that the book was split into two sections: ‘Regulars’ and ‘Vagrants’. And of course it was the vagrants section that captured the young birder’s imagination the most. Here were species I’d barely heard of, let alone thought ever occurred in Britain. And they were treated in almost as much detail as the Regulars.

One of the features of the Vagrants section was that the text gave the total number of records for each species at the time the book was written. Some of these seem incredible now as ranges have expanded, or more has become known about distribution or identification: Wilson’s Petrel, 8; Little Egret, 260; Pallid Harrier, 3; Ring-billed Gull, 37; Olive-backed Pipit, 18;  Red-flanked Bluetail, 8, to give just a few examples. Of course, some species have stayed genuinely rare, and others such as Ortolan Bunting have declined to the point where they would almost be considered as vagrants rather than regulars now.

My first act on getting my original copy home in 1983 was to tick off the species I’d seen (it would have been about 150, with only one – Crane – in the Vagrants section), after which I set about trying to see as many of the rest as I could. I’ve often heard people talk about ‘finishing the regulars in the Shell Guide’. In common with many other people, I’m sure, my last one was Great Shearwater, 15 years after starting out on the quest to see them all. By that time my British list had grown from 150 or so to over 400, and my copy of the Shell Guide had been so used and abused that it literally fell apart.

I’m sure there were many other factors involved, such as the comparative lack of other distractions (no computers, no internet, just four TV channels etc), but I’m convinced the Shell Guide played a large part in inspiring birders of my age to get out there and see birds for themselves, whether by twitching rarities or just going birding. I’m surprised it’s never been updated – would a modern version with better illustrations be as inspiring I wonder, or would it just be lost amongst all the other bird books, magazines and websites constantly clamouring for our attention?

Monday 21 May 2012

An Eventful Morning at Swithland Res

Another of my ‘most wanted’ county birds was found by Ralph Lockwood on Saturday – a 1st-summer male Golden Oriole singing in Buddon Wood, adjacent to Swithland Res. By the time I heard about it though, it seemed too late in the day for it to be singing, so I didn’t bother going immediately. A good decision as it turned out, as there was no further sign of it for the rest of the day.

I didn’t really expect it to stay overnight, as they never do in Leics*, so I was surprised but pleased to get a phone call from Steve Lister on Sunday morning to say that it was still there! I think I did pretty well to get from being at home in bed to Kinchley Lane in about half an hour, but I needn’t have rushed, as it sang on and off until about 10:30. No chance of seeing it though, as it was well back in the trees, and as is usual with this species, managing to move around without showing itself once. I think they must have an invisibility cloak or something. But you have to take what you can get with birds like this, so I’m happy to add it to my county list on the basis of hearing it singing and calling for several hours.

But the bird was overshadowed somewhat by the fact that Colin Towe, aka beast, aka username, had to be carted off to hospital in an ambulance mid-morning after passing out (protesting that he couldn’t go until he’d seen the bird, of course!). Apparently they couldn’t find any obvious cause for it, and I later had a text from him saying ‘Docs wanted 2 keep me in but I said fuck off...’, so it sounds like he’s back to normal now!

After sorting out Colin’s car for him, Dave Gray and I headed for Cossington Meadows, where we saw a Bar-tailed Godwit but not a lot else.

So, three county ticks so far this year and it’s only May – the last time I had that many was in 1999! I’m just going to say one more thing on the subject of potential county ticks – Bee-eater...

* - there are actually two previous records of Golden Orioles being recorded on more than one date in the county, but the vast majority were only seen/heard by the finder(s).

Thursday 17 May 2012


A pleasant day out in Norfolk yesterday with John '8mm' Hague, Dave 'Blue Suede Shoes' Gray and Andy 'Two Lifers' Neilson. Andy has already written up the day's birds here, so I'll just post a few of my photos:

The Hooded Birder amuses himself with some colouring-in whilst waiting for the old folks to finish their breakfasts in McDonald's

Fly-by Hen Harrier snapped out of the car window somewhere near Choseley

 A not-too-shabby photo of a male Bearded Tit at Titchwell - first time I've ever managed to get any kind of image of one of these!

A lovely day at the beach

 Obliging Titchwell waders
Snettisham - not a bad photo of a Turtle Dove considering it was taken through a closed car window

 Nene Washes, Eldernell, with rather more water than there should be at this time of year

Saturday 12 May 2012

A Cautionary Tale

The funniest thing about the whole 'Atlas Flycatcher' saga is this photo (link goes to the whole page rather than the individual photo). It's a shame more people couldn't see the message being shouted at them in capital letters!

Thursday 10 May 2012

So, anyway...

...another one ticked off the spring county wishlist. And I got some photos. Which was nice.

Simon the Savi's Warbler - showing well. Occasionally. If you're lucky.

Saturday 14 April 2012

SB or not SB...

In May 1998, in the days when petrol was somewhat cheaper than it is now, I spent most of my birthday standing around looking at an empty field in Northumberland. A pretty pointless thing to do on the face of it, when I could have been at home eating jelly and ice cream, but in common with several hundred other people I had made the long journey to Druridge Bay hoping to see a Slender-billed Curlew. The bird had in fact been there for several days, but we had previously resisted going on the grounds that it was considered to be ‘bollocks’ by several eminent birders. But on the 7th, this changed to ‘[insert name of eminent birder – I can’t actually remember who it was] says it is one’, so early on the 8th we were there.

I have two recollections of that day, other than the disappointment of not seeing one of the rarest birds in the world. One is of myself, Jeff Higgott and several other birders from Suffolk entertaining ourselves by doing bird impressions (both vocal and physical) for the others to guess, whilst the rest of the crowd gradually edged further and further away from us. The other is of Jeff saying to LGRE, after it had become apparent that the bird had gone, “So, Lee, what now?”, to which he replied, looking as if he meant it, “Dunno. Kill ourselves?”.

But of course he didn’t, he just convinced himself that it wasn’t one. And now it looks like he’s going to have the last laugh. Accepted in 2002 by the BBRC and BOURC as the first for Britain, it now looks certain to be rejected (sorry, considered ‘not proven’) after ten years of rumbling discontent with the record and a long review process. The cat was let at least partially out of the bag yesterday when the latest BBRC ‘work in progress’ file listed the record as ‘NP’ (not proven). This was quickly pronounced to be a ‘genuine error’ after it was pounced on by eagle-eyed BirdForum members, but what exactly was the error? Somehow typing the letters NP into the relevant cell on the spreadsheet instead of IC (in circulation)? Or the timing and method of release of such important news?

At the time of writing it is still listed as NP on the WIP file on the BBRC website (saying ‘last updated 14-Apr-12’). But I don’t think there’s any doubt now that it will be chucked out, and I for one have removed it with great ceremony from my dip list, on the grounds that if it wasn’t one, then I didn’t dip on it (I haven’t really. I don’t even keep a dip list).

Further reading, if you’re really bored:

Friday 13 April 2012

One Down, Ten To Go

It seems I only had to ask – after my last post listing 11 species I’d like to see in the county this spring, one has turned up already – a splendid Black-winged Stilt at Rutland Water this afternoon! To begin with it looked like we were going to be firmly in ‘World’s Worst Rarity Photo’ territory...
...but fortunately it soon came closer to Dunlin hide and provided some reasonable photo opportunities:

Right, what’s next?

Friday 30 March 2012

Spring wishlist

Whoah there. What’s going on? I’m sure it was December a minute ago. And now the sun’s out and birds are singing, and there’s migrants turning up all over the place. Hmm, must be spring – perhaps I’d better write something just in case people think I didn’t make it through the winter.

So, yes, spring. Every year around this time, I start thinking about my county list, and what might turn up this spring. The trouble with spring, of course, is that migrating birds are in a hurry and so often don’t hang around for long. In recent years I’ve missed a few birds that just didn’t stay long enough, including the Stone Curlew at North Luffenham last year and the Broad-billed Sandpiper at Rutland Water the year before. And then there are the inevitable single observer flyovers like last year’s Black Kite.

But of course there have been some that have stayed long enough for me to see, such as last year’s long-awaited Hoopoe and Glossy Ibis, and the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in 2010.

 THE Glossy Ibis. Eat my record shot.

But there are still loads of potential spring county ticks that could turn up. Here are a few of them, with an indication of their likelihood. Just one of these would be good, please:

Golden Oriole. Statistically the most likely, with around 20 accepted Leics records... and about a thousand stringy claims that were actually Green Woodpeckers. Or discarded banana skins.

Stone Curlew. More of these must pass through the county, especially out in the east of Rutland. Just need one to turn up on a day when I haven’t got a family gathering to attend, or to hang around for a bit longer than one evening.

That’s it for the at all likely ones; everything else is even less likely!

Squacco Heron – 1 county record in 1971.
Black Stork – 1 county record (2 birds) in 1991.
Black Kite – only 1 accepted record (2011) but several other claims that didn’t quite make it.
Black-winged Stilt – 2 county records (4 birds) in 1945 and 1987.
Collared Pratincole – 1 county record in 1977 (plus a dodgy one from 18-something)
Broad-billed Sandpiper – probably too much to hope for another one so soon?
Alpine Swift – 3 county records, last one in 2008.
Bee-eater – 3 county records, last one in 1992.
Savi’s Warbler – 4 records – just remembered this is another one from last year that didn’t hang around! Maybe it will come back this year...